Star Wars Episode 7: The Force Awakens
Reviewed by John David Ebert
The new Star Wars film, directed by J.J. Abrams, is certainly entertaining and fun to watch. It works especially well as a vehicle for Harrison Ford’s character of Han Solo, who dominates the film with an excellent performance (which makes up for the “watered down” Han Solo of Return of the Jedi). The new characters, Rey and Finn, are also very good, likeable and played well (Daisy Ridley is even better than Natalie Portman).
But as for it being a new Star Wars film: that’s where the fun stops and the doubts start creeping in. One expects, from a Star Wars film, a sense of inventiveness and astonishing imagery (whether the dialogue is any good or not; and of course, the dialogue in Episode 7 is one of its strong points). But this film simply does not convey the sense of wonder and awe of either the original trilogy or even the problematic prequels. Everyone agrees, I think, that the main problem with the prequels concerned its “flat” characters and the stiff, wooden performances of its actors. However, those films–which I’ve watched again and again–were packed with stunning visuals: just think of that army of droids in The Phantom Menace being unloaded onto the grassy field in row after row; or the wonderful General Grievous with his four-armed light sabers in Revenge of the Sith; or the incredible climactic battle in Attack of the Clones with one astonishing machine rolling out to assault the viewer’s imagination after the next.
That sense of visual innovation is, I think, what’s missing from the new Star Wars film, the plot of which concerns a search for Luke Skywalker, who has gone into hiding after attempting to set up a Jedi training academy that failed. That’s a fun idea, until you realize that Mark Hamill isn’t even in the film until the very last scene and is not even given any dialogue.
Rumor has it that Lucas was planning on making Episode 7 himself before the Disney deal came along and I think he should have restrained his greed and gone ahead with the project because his creative genius is palpably absent from the new film’s images, even though it is technically speaking a perfectly fun and watchable movie (it reminds me of Apple after the genius of Steve Jobs left: nothing fresh and no innovation until he was brought back and wowed us all with one amazing gadget after the next). Nothing of Lucas’s original story treatments for Episodes 7, 8 and 9 were retained–those can be found on the Net after a careful search–and that’s too bad because one can already tell from the treatments that Lucas was on to something: black hole generators–in Episode 7 as it stands, we have the disappointing Death Star rehash called “the Starkiller”–and the creation of clones of both Luke Skywalker and Darth Vader; the Cloud City of Bespin recoded as a Jedi training academy that is invaded by an army wearing Darth Vader masks, etc. etc. In other words, one fresh, inventive idea after the next. The viewer of Abrams’ technically “correct” and proficiently told tale will find no such thrills here.
What we have instead is a “safe” Star Wars film, built like all Post-Classic Cinema these days on formulae, cliches and repetition of the past. Indeed, the inventiveness is specifically traded out for the film’s sense of nostalgia: look, there goes the Millenium Falcon, piloted once again by Han Solo and Chewbacca! The Empire has been renamed “the First Order” and the Rebellion has become “the Resistance,” but the suits, costumes, sets and ship designs look exactly the same as those of the first two Star Wars films. Nothing fresh at all. And Kylo Ren, though he is a sympathetic villain, is merely a pale imitation of Darth Vader. (This film’s equivalent of “the Emperor” is even worse: a miserable gigantification of Gollum from Jackson’s Lord of the Rings–completely uninteresting and a total yawn. Lucas would never have allowed such an unimaginative figure to slip past him).
The entire film, in short, is a pale imitation of a Star Wars movie (just as Abrams’ Super 8 was a feeble attempt to imitate a Spielberg film). It’s fun to watch, but unlike the other six films, I don’t think I’d want to see this one again.
And I’ve never felt that way about a Star Wars film before.
Too bad: Lucas should’ve nixed the Disney deal and gone ahead with his own plans. We would’ve gotten a much better, more visually rich and textured film. Word has it that Lucas is bitter about the Disney deal and didn’t even watch the trailer for Episode 7.
Lesson learned: never sell out.